Science is about 6000 years old while physics emerged as a distinct branch some 2500 years ago. As scientists discovered virtually countless facts about the world during this great span of time, the manner in which they explained the underlying structure of that world underwent a philosophical evolution. From Clockwork to Crapshoot provides the perspective needed to understand contemporary developments in physics in relation to philosophical traditions as far back as ancient Greece.
Roger Newton, whose previous works have been widely praised for erudition and accessibility, presents a history of physics from the early beginning to our day--with the associated mathematics, astronomy, and chemistry. Along the way, he gives brief explanations of the scientific concepts at issue, biographical thumbnail sketches of the protagonists, and descriptions of the changing instruments that enabled scientists to make their discoveries. He traces a profound change from a deterministic explanation of the world--accepted at least since the time of the ancient Greek and Taoist Chinese civilizations--to the notion of probability, enshrined as the very basis of science with the quantum revolution at the beginning of the twentieth century. With this change, Newton finds another fundamental shift in the focus of physicists--from the cause of dynamics or motion to the basic structure of the world. His work identifies what may well be the defining characteristic of physics in the twenty-first century.
This is an illuminating chronicle of mankind's adventures, over six millennia, in pursuit of physical laws. It is enhanced by lucid exposition of challenges and concepts, with engaging portraits of many avid actors in a grand, abiding drama.
Although there are several books on the history of physics, none is as up-to-date, comprehensive, and well-written as Newton's. Most other books either provide a very superficial explanation of the concepts and theories, or are too technical for most non-scientists to understand. Newton manages to maintain a consistent level and style, and to say just enough about the difficult issues to get the reader interested but not overwhelmed
Newton's account is superb. He is magnificent at explaining the profound influence of mathematics on the development of physics. The historical relationships between subdisciplines, such as thermodynamics and statistical physics, are illuminated. Numerous biographical sketches add a lively dynamic to an enjoyable book.
This book attempts in one volume to give a history of physics, from the dawn of mankind to the present day. It is a formidable task but one which I believe has been largely successful.
From the properties of matter to the constituents of the universe, this book illustrates how discoveries old and new have created modern physics.
- 352 pages
- 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
- Belknap Press
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